Magazine article Public Finance

Cripes, Boris for Mayor?

Magazine article Public Finance

Cripes, Boris for Mayor?

Article excerpt

Whisper it if you dare, but just over a month from now Boris Johnson could be mayor of London with the biggest personal mandate of any western European politician other than the president of France.

What began looking like a bit of a joke has turned into a deadly serious challenge for power in the capital; and the man who recognises this more than any is the two-term incumbent Ken Livingstone. He reacted to the opinion poll putting Johnson 12 points in the lead by conceding that he was facing the biggest fight of what is already a pretty pugnacious political career.

It is a fight that he is in serious danger of losing, and the ramifications of such a defeat will be far reaching. It might have been tempting for the Labour hierarchy to dismiss such an outcome as an aberration, as a clash of personalities and mavericks rather than of parties. But Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who has spent most of his career thoroughly detesting Livingstone, has tied his colours to the mast of Good Ship Ken just as it is taking on water, thereby ensuring that a defeat for the mayor is a defeat also for Labour.

Brown recently praised his erstwhile foe's 'lifelong commitment to London' which had enabled him 'to get so much done for Londoners'. For Brown to deliver such an encomium to a man whose name he once found difficult to utter without biting his tongue is a clear sign that Labour is seriously worried about the outcome of the election in London, and in the municipal authorities outside the capital as well. Opinion polls seem to point to a sea-change in politics, though it is still not clear how much they owe to Chancellor Alistair Darling's lacklustre Budget and to what extent they betoken a long-term decline in Labour fortunes.

But polls showing the Tories as much as 16 points ahead of Labour, consistently achieving 40% or more of the vote and with Labour languishing in the 20s are the stuff of nightmares for the government. These figures are what you would expect to see during the third term of an administration that has lost its way and has no clear idea of where it is going next.

Opinion polls can always be dismissed in a way that a real election cannot be. The importance of May 1 in London for the Conservatives is to be able to show that they can win big again. They have gradually clawed their way back from a nadir in 1995 to be once again the biggest party in local government in England. They now control more London boroughs than Labour and the Liberal Democrats combined. To land the prize of mayor of London would be a significant achievement. …

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